The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square is straining to cope with double the number of visitors it was designed for, and it looking for a 200th-anniversary upgrade.
A couple of years ago, the main entrance to the gallery was shifted from the grand portico to the newish post-modern Sainsbury Wing to improve access. However, that entrance was designed for — an at the time ambitious — capacity of 3 million visitors a year, but double that number of people now visit the gallery.
The modest entrance space can be very crowded especially during popular exhibitions, and queues often snake outside the building to pass through security and tickets.
The NG200 anniversary project will address the visitor’s arrival via the public realm in Trafalgar Square and through the Sainsbury Wing into the gallery, with much-improved wayfinding and orientation. They’re also looking to make the entrance more obvious to visitors, as it can seem rather anonymous from a distance compared to the historic frontage facing Trafalgar Square. The anonymity is in part thanks to the backlash from the monstrous carbuncle that was planned for the site, and the new entrance ended up been as timid as possible to get past the critics.
The original design concept envisaged the entrance foyer as being like a crypt, however, and probably unsurprisingly, visitors generally find this space uninviting, underwhelming and confusing.
So the plans aim to make the entrance a lot more visible and welcoming.
They will also improve the area outside the gallery, and also create a new Research Centre, which is likely to be sited in the west wing of the Wilkins Building
Commercially, they’re also looking to have more spaces for revenue-generating opportunities — namely events, sales and membership.
The £25-£30 million project needs to be delivered in phases, and they aim for the first phase to be completed by May 2024 — the 200th anniversary of its opening on 10th May 1824 — although down the road in Pall Mall. The current main gallery building opened a decade later in 1834.
With the revamped National Portrait Gallery reopening in 2023, and a revamped entrance to the National Gallery in 2024, there’s a lot of change happening to Trafalgar Square’s cluster of cultural venues.